Violence has again marred the already turbulent pre-electoral atmosphere in Albania after a shooting outside the capital left one person dead and four injured on Wednesday.
According to a police statement, an officer was among the injured in the incident in the city of Elbasan, 35km south of the capital, Tirana.
Several people have been detained, including the suspected gunman. No further details were given by police.
The incident came hours after Albania's president dramatically intervened in pre-electoral debates, accusing the incumbent government of running a “kleptocratic regime” and inciting violence against opposition members.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Ilir Meta said he would resign if the ruling Socialist Party under Prime Minister Edi Rama wins Sunday’s parliamentary election.
The SP has maintained a grip on power since 2013 and is leading the main conservative opposition in opinion polls. Speaking on Wednesday, Mera also accused the government of running an “ugly copy” of the country’s former communist dictatorship, adding that had bungled its pandemic response.
Election season in Albania marked by violence and acrimony
Prime Minister Edi Rama and leader of the governing Socialist Party called for calm and patience on Wednesday, adding that Sunday's election would unite Albanians and punish those who wanted to turn it into “a snake around our legs.”
The upcoming election is regarded as key to convincing the European Union to agree on negotiations to admit the country as a member.
The country’s election season was marked by antagonism from the outset, with incendiary rhetoric exchanged between politicians of all stripes and candidates heckled at public events.
The SP faces a key challenge from the Democratic Party, which signed a coalition agreement with the smaller Socialist Movement for Integration and 13 smaller parties in March, pledging to “put Albania and Albanians first”.
Earlier in February, supporters of the two main opposing political parties had clashed in Elbasan. It came days after a DP activist was injured in the western city of Kavaja, an incident for which the DP blames the governing SP.
The fatal incident on Wednesday sparked another war of words between the running parties. Taulant Balla, the head of the Socialists’ parliamentary group, accused the Democratic Party of sending “groups of paramilitaries, armed men from other cities” to frighten people in Elbasan.
Gazmend Bardhi of the Democratic Party claimed that a car belonging to the SP group was distributing money among voters.
The US Embassy has issued a call to the main political leaders in the country to “exercise restraint” and “to clearly reject violence” before the election.
President wades into debate hours before shooting
In an interview with the Associated Press earlier on Wednesday, President Ilir Meta said he would resign if the SP wins a third term and accused Prime Minister Rama of “incitement for violence” against the opposition.
"Albanians will refuse [Rama] in a referendum-like way,” Meta said, “because this is the ugliest offspring of the communist past and of the kleptocratic regime of the last years.”
He accused the government of having “grabbed all the powers and the sovereignty of Albania’s people and… eliminated all the accountability”, adding: “With their vote on April 25, the Albanian people will retake the sovereignty in their hands.”
Meta's post is largely ceremonial, with some powers over matters concerning the judiciary and the armed forces. His role is also generally understood to be apolitical and the president is meant to be a symbol of the country’s unity. But he has often clashed with Rama's government in the past.
Meta started his political career with the Socialist Party, but later left it to form the LSI. He left its leadership to his wife on being elected president in 2017.